The dangers of surprises

Surprises are tricky things. Some people just don’t like them – like my Dad (it’s a good job the last surprise I sprang on my parents was aimed more at my mother than him…), and other surprises have to be done in the right way in order for them to be appreciated properly. For example, when surprising me with a weekend in Paris, my Mum & sister sensibly gave me a month’s warning so that I could plan my trip (I love surprises, but I like planning travel itineraries even more). I adore surprises – it’s why I have an Amazon wishlist, so people don’t have to ask what I want as a gift (yet still ensuring that it’s something I actually want). Surprises are definitely something I’d love to have more of in my life.

Birthday surprises are particularly tricky. Make it a total surprise and you run the risk that the recipient will think that everyone’s forgotten them and make most of their special day utterly miserable. A recent addition to the 30 Club was given a surprise of this variety, but luckily they’d twigged that something was up – otherwise I’d have feared for the consequences. This past weekend saw another 30th surprise, but I was worried for a different reason – the birthday girl seemed very keen to ignore the day, what if she resented the sudden appearance of several of her closest friends?

In the end, it was a fabulous day. The plan was well orchestrated by birthday girl’s sister – all we were doing was joining her family on an already planned day out involving the Lord Mayor’s Show and fireworks. (Well done London for putting on such a spectacular event in honour of Jenni’s 30th!) Jenni was suitably shocked and there were squeals and tears – all in all, it had the desired effect.

Should you ever be in London on the second Saturday of November, I highly recommend catching the Lord Mayor’s procession. It’s a eccentric bit of London history (it’s taken place for over 800 years) and involves all the classic bits of English pageantry that tourists assume happens all the time – marching military bands, people in odd clothes, gold carriages, plenty of horses (also in odd clothes), floats carrying scantily clad women, oh, and Stephen Fry…

To quote Gill (whose Dad took this photo): “IT’S STEPHEN FRY”
(He heard, turned round and waved – bless him.) 

We were rather late to the party, passing through the Strand as people began relax after the parade, but passed the Royal Courts just as the Lord Mayor arrived so got a glimpse of the main piece of action. We also caught some of the procession on its return, as we made our way to Pizza Express and phase two of the birthday celebration. On our way to surprise the birthday girl, we also came across a surprising roadblock: 
Did you know the MET have regulation board shorts? 

The other element of the Lord Mayor’s ‘thing’ is a fireworks display over the Thames. Unlike the New Year’s display, you can get an excellent viewing point simply by turning up an hour before it kicks off. We were right in the middle of Waterloo bridge, meaning that we had a totally unobscured view of the fireworks exploding from a barge in front of us. There are a few things you ought to be aware of though:
  • Coffee places near the bridge get very busy immediately prior to the fireworks. Nipping off for hot beverages 45 minutes before the display may sound reasonable – in actual fact it means you’ll get stuck in an abnormally long queue and then get prevented from crossing the bridge due to the crowds that have congregated in your absence.
  • Old ladies can have very sharp elbows and few manners. While trying to preserve space for the beverage-getters, we had to see off a few potential invaders. In most cases the ‘saving space dance’ and loud talk of the returning friends “who were here first, but have gone to buy tea” sufficed, but one particular lady could not be deterred. She pushed, poked and prodded – nearly knocking over Jules in the process – and was generally rather annoying. [We weren’t utterly heartless though. Once it became clear that they weren’t coming back, we let her in – but she could have asked nicely and said thank-you though.] 
  • Standing on a bridge leaves you rather exposed to the elements. It was windy and this meant that not only was it chilly, but the fireworks were blown in our direction – slightly nerve wrecking. 
  • Birthday biscuits are an excellent firework accompaniment. 
  • People will always get carried away with taking photos of the sparkly things, especially if their camera has a firework setting… 

On the left, my firework setting; on the right, Gill’s ‘proper’ photo.

The loss of the beverage-getters had one advantage, it enabled them to purchase something without which no birthday would be complete: champagne. (Ok, so it was cava, sue me…) Of course, for al fresco champagne drinking, one needs appropriate receptacles and what better than some Starbucks red cups? 
It looks like I was a little dubious of the ethics of the situation…
(Or, wondering if anyone would notice that I’d somehow acquired two cups.)

Happy birthday Jenni! 

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